A Republican state senator wants the legislature, rather than state environmental regulators, to control the money generated by oil and gas violations in Pennsylvania.
Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R- Venango) recently sent out a co-sponsorship memo seeking support for new legislation.
He sees it as a separation of powers issue.
“Traditional legislative powers have drifted toward the executive branch,” he says. “I’m just starting with oil and gas, but I feel like this about a lot of other programs. The fines should run through the general fund. Why shouldn’t the legislature decide how much is spent?”
He believes the state Department of Environmental Protection could be motivated to levy larger penalties, to support its own existence. However he says he has no proof that’s occurring.
“If you’re having a rough fiscal year, you bump the fines up. That’s possible,” he says. “People say the same thing about the State Police and speeding fines. It’s an incentive that seems to be there. I think we should remove that. Violators will feel they’re being looked at more objectively.”
Revenue from oil and gas penalties is currently used to support the functions of DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas Management. The fines represent a relatively small amount of money in relation to Pennsylvania’s roughly $30 billion annual budget.
This fiscal year Pennsylvania is expected to have a $600 million revenue shortfall, on top of an existing multi-billion dollar structural deficit.